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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Ideology of Meat

Posted by on Thu, Jun 24, 2010 at 9:04 AM

From HuffPo:

The... mind, as most people think about it, does not exist in conventional science, because the expressions of consciousness, such as choice, will, emotions, and even logic are said to be brain in disguise. As astronomer Carl Sagan put it, "[The brain's] workings — what we sometimes call mind — are a consequence of its anatomy and physiology, and nothing more." (10) Nobelist Francis Crick in his 1995 book The Astonishing Hypothesis was equally explicit, saying, "'You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. As Lewis Carroll's Alice might have phrased it: 'You're nothing but a pack of neurons.'" (11) Or, as Marvin Minsky, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology cognitive scientist and artificial intelligence expert, put it more crudely, "The brain is just a computer made of meat." (12) Crick went further. In his subsequent book Of Molecules and Men, he wrote, "The ultimate aim of the modern movement in biology is to explain all biology in terms of physics and chemistry" (13) — to analyze, in other words, the meat. And lest there be no doubt about where he stands, philosopher Dennett says, "We're all zombies. Nobody is conscious." (14)
Isn't it closer to the truth to say the brain is a computer made of fat? And isn't there a difference of meaning between meat and fat? Saying meat is one thing; saying fat is another? When one associates the brain with meat, he/she is in a sense reinforcing the kind ideology that imagines the cause for the human brain's expansion (2 million years ago) to be improved access to animal protein—better hunting methods, killing tools, and so on. This then links the development of the human brain to murder rather than sociality. Always in this cowboy culture of ours, every effort is made to deny the obvious: the "species specific intersubjectivity of the human animal."


Comments (20) RSS

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Arsenic7 1
I think it was just an analogy, Charles, and not a literal one. Meat probably just sounded better in his head than fat.

Anyway, if someone told you you had a fat brain you might just be offended, whereas if they told you it was meaty you might take pride in that.
Posted by Arsenic7 on June 24, 2010 at 9:12 AM · Report this
Vince 2
"...cowboy culture of ours..." makes me question your conclusion. Have you looked around the world? This is one of the more tightly controlled societies in history.
Posted by Vince on June 24, 2010 at 9:20 AM · Report this
mackro 3
Maybe "cholesterol" is the operative word. Have you look at the RDA of a can of Pork Brains In Milk Sauce? The cholesterol RDA percentage is like 1200%
Posted by mackro on June 24, 2010 at 9:41 AM · Report this
venomlash 4
Now I'm hungry. :(
Posted by venomlash on June 24, 2010 at 10:25 AM · Report this
How many Estimated Servings in one can of Pork Brains?
Posted by RonK, Seattle on June 24, 2010 at 10:35 AM · Report this
thelyamhound 6
I'm not sure that murder isn't a property of "sociality," of the "species specific intersubjectivity" of which we speak. Given a member of our own species (because, like all species, we are most concerned with our own; even a vegan distinguishes between protected life--the animal--and life not deserving of protection--the vegetable--based on the ostensible proximity of the lifeform to the self), we have multiple options--to embrace, protect, mate with, form cooperative partnership with, or kill the encountered organism. What's more, our cooperative behaviors, as they extend outward, tend to form tribes, or tribal relationships writ large, like nation-states. From there, it becomes necessary to protect the interests of the tribe/nation from the conflicting interests.

In other words, the cooperative instinct codifies and ritualizes, rather than reduces, the will-to-murder. No?
Posted by thelyamhound on June 24, 2010 at 10:43 AM · Report this
Posted by BiCycleRider on June 24, 2010 at 11:03 AM · Report this
OuterCow 8
I'd prefer a neurologist to chime in on this one, but since the article you’re referencing seems to be about the facts of the matter (and good on Huffpo for trying that out) I'll try and stick with the facts. Meat is digestible animal matter. Fat is a specific type of animal matter, of which the brain, to my limited knowledge, is not mostly compromised of. So then to say the human mind is a computer made of fat would just not be accurate. And to say associating the brain with meat harkens back to our omnivore roots makes just makes no fucking sense, Charles. All vegans brains are made of meat, cows brains are made of meat. Your connection is idiotic.
Posted by OuterCow on June 24, 2010 at 11:23 AM · Report this
FWIW: We normally associate with the word "meat" with muscle. The brain is not composed of muscle, so in a sense you're right. However, though it does contain a good deal of fat - the insulation that ensheaths the connecting fibers between neurons is quite fatty - that's not quite right either.

The brain is probably closer to organ meat than anything - liver, heart, etc. Since the culinary world groups those meats under the name "offal," I propose a new analogy, one that I think does a much better job trivializing the brain's complexity and nuance:

"The brain is an offal computer."
Posted by MuphrysLaw on June 24, 2010 at 11:43 AM · Report this
Brains came first. Saying the brain is a computer made of meat is backwards; Computers are attempts at creating artificial brains made out of materials other than protein. So far they behave a lot less like brains than advertised.
Posted by Proteus on June 24, 2010 at 11:48 AM · Report this
biffster 11
"A computer is a programmable machine that receives input, stores and manipulates data, and provides output in a useful format." Wikipedia

loosely speaking, the brain is a computer. most likely a quantum computer
Posted by biffster on June 24, 2010 at 12:13 PM · Report this
@11: In the same way a bird is, loosely speaking, an airplane?

I understand that metaphorically speaking about the brain in those terms can be illuminating, but the metaphor only goes so far. In the way Charles is invoking it, the metaphor seems to hit its limit of utility; Computers are designed, by humans, to perform a specific function. Brains evolved over millions of years in the absence of any designer or forward-thinking use plan. The "programming," if that's what you want to call it, is acquired knowledge, not a specific coded list of operational instructions entered through a User Interface.

The two things share many similarities (largely because the creators of computers are consciously trying to emulate certain behaviors of the brain), but saying a brain is nothing but a computer seems like a gross oversimplification from where I stand. Its use here as a means of dismissing out of hand freewill, consciousness etc seems like an updated version of the nineteenth century Clockwork Universe idea.

The syllogism looks like this: "Computers mindlessly do what they are programmed to do and nothing else, so you'd never say a computer had freewill or possessed consciousness. And (handwaving occurs here) the human brain is nothing but a computer. Therefore humans do not possess freewill or consciousness."

An interesting but hardly airtight point.
Posted by Proteus on June 24, 2010 at 12:54 PM · Report this
leek 13
Yay, someone already linked to the meat scifi story.
Posted by leek on June 24, 2010 at 1:52 PM · Report this
Fistique 14
The contrast between the prestige we accord meat vs fat is certainly relevant to the more philosophical parts of feminism.
Posted by Fistique on June 24, 2010 at 2:06 PM · Report this
@11: "loosely speaking, the brain is a computer. most likely a quantum computer"

[Citation Needed]
Posted by MuphrysLaw on June 24, 2010 at 2:38 PM · Report this
welcometothemurk22 16
Perhaps all those zombies were onto something.
Posted by welcometothemurk22 on June 24, 2010 at 3:11 PM · Report this
Won't somebody please make a bacon computer?
Posted by RonK, Seattle on June 24, 2010 at 3:11 PM · Report this
Puck Falin 18
That article makes me want want to vomit. Way to build a house, nay, a whole neighborhood out of straw. Yes, we are made of meat. So what? I understand the desire to be more than that, but the contortions and misscharacterizations of the author and his ilk are no less despicable because of it.
Posted by Puck Falin on June 24, 2010 at 4:42 PM · Report this
biffster 19
loosely speaking, yes, a bird is an airplane (I should say, fundamentally). control surfaces? check. means of propulsion? check. landing gear? check. pilot? check.

i think our difference in opinion lies in our definition of 'programming.'
programming, as i see it, is the neural network of the brain, not literal command functions that tell the brain what to do with the information. as information from the senses enter the brain, it needs to figure out what part of the brain the info needs to go to in order to get processed quickly. so the brain will continually reprogram or add new neural networks/pathways to gain maximum efficiency. so everytime you smell a smell, that information gets short-tracked to olfactory(?) region of the brain instead of spinning by the optical region. when you learn a skill through repetition your muscle memory develops so that your brain doesn't have to think all the time about what you're doing. it just reprogrammed itself to gain greater efficiency. you'll notice this the next time you're driving and realize that you're not even paying 100% attention to what you're doing as you are: listening to the radio, thinking about your day, silencing your phone because you're not supposed to be txt/talking on it, all while you're driving. what i mean by this is that you're not constantly concentrating on the constant corrections in steering/acceleration in order to drive safely. your neural network has been built to the point that driving becomes 2nd nature.

so all that comes to the survival instinct which seems to be the "use plan" for the brain. survive long enough to pass on your DNA to the next generation.

and your last argument is a double-edged sword. computers don't have free-will or consciousness, but we can certainly program them to behave like they do. and the brain may not be a computer, but it sure can behave like one.
Posted by biffster on June 28, 2010 at 1:21 PM · Report this
biffster 20
should I have said, "behaves like a quantum computer" ?
Posted by biffster on June 28, 2010 at 1:37 PM · Report this

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